World Water Week: Three EU Sister Projects join forces on reconnecting water management with nature

Partners from Operandum, Phusicos, and Reconect, three EU 2020 Horizon projects, gathered on Friday, August 27th to deliver a session at the first fully virtual Stockholm World Water Week.

The event entitled “Reconnecting water management with nature: Upscaling nature-based solutions” highlighted methods to scaling Nature-based Solutions (NbS), focusing on the potential barriers to uptake as well as the possible enablers and solutions to apply NbS to reduce hydro-meteorological risk and mitigate climate change.

On the live chat, the audience joined the discussions, raising important challenges to upscaling NbS, such as financing, skepticism, monitoring and governance.

The project’s experts addressed the questions from the participants during the session; but here we share further answers to questions we didn’t have the chance to answer.

How do we engage governments and the public sector?

Answer: It is a really essential part of the whole NbS process as I mentioned in my short talk, the co-creation approach can help to engage governments and public. Co-creation, being a process of involving stakeholders in the development of NbS interventions, allows to jointly define direction and purpose, and solve problems together. It not only promotes the participation of different stakeholders, including community members and policy-makers, but also empowers them.

An advantage of involving stakeholders in the planning and development of projects is that it facilitates the implementation process. Also, co-creation enables the sustainability and scalability of interventions, because partners may unlock access to complementary activities conducted by the public sector. In addition, government actors may also be able to connect other agencies to services like legal advice or public funding. Finally, partners who communicate with high-level government agencies may be able to influence public sector activities impacting the success of a project, such as agriculture, infrastructure, education and other public services. How to do it? Develop relationships with local and regional government during the preparation and scoping of any partnership through bi- or multilateral co-creation meetings; it is key to invite the representatives from more than one level of government perspective. After, through creative workshops/meetings and other joint co-creation activities (e.g. joint actions for promotion NBS and evaluation of its impact, citizen science projects, etc.), design outcomes and objectives aligned with public policy to engage the interest of government. Different agreements or memorandum of understandings along with the establishing of new networks or strengthening the already existing cooperation have the potential to achieve the government-public partnership outcomes.

— Diana Dushkova, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, RECONECT project

What are the best options to raise funds for NbS projects?

Answer: There are multiple options spanning from private to blended and public financing models, e.g. collective investment schemes, stewardship schemes, payment for ecosystem services, tax rebates, subsidies, etc. The choice of the best option strongly depends on the institutional, legal and financial frameworks and instruments set in place at national and regional level to support NbS implementation. It is important to acknowledge that so far, NbS have been largely public goods; a recent UNEP report estimates that around 86% of NbS have been publicly funded. However, a stronger role of the private sector is often advocated. For example, a private hydropower plant owner can invest in foresting an adjacent slope to reduce sediment runoff and thus reservoir dredging costs, or an investor can finance a nature park and charge entrance.

For more on public, private and blended finance models click here.

— Anna Scolobig, University of Geneva, PHUSICOS project

How can we enable a stronger engagement of the private sector? Is it viable to issue green bonds?

Answer: Private business representatives maintain the importance of promoting NbS national project preparation facilities and a user-friendly benefit and co-benefit catalogue for the private sector. In addition, greater synergies between the public and private sectors are needed not only that enable investments in nature but also that enable divestments from nature-negative or grey projects. To date, however, divestment from climate-negative assets is often fully voluntary, yet incentivized by investors and businesses’ concern about their public image and stranded assets. Moreover, legislative packages for a regulation on sustainability-related disclosures are under development in several countries. Lastly, there is a necessity to transition the governance of the financial sector to be able to better tap into macro finance opportunities. Green bonds are one of these opportunities. They are, fixed-income instruments designed specifically to support climate-related or environmental projects. Green bonds can come with tax incentives to enhance their attractiveness to investors. Raising capital in the green bond market for investment in nature-based solutions is definitely an option. Yet, the majority of institutional investors look for a minimum bond size of USD200 million in global north countries and USD 100 million in global south countries which can be a hurdle to issuing a green bond. Aggregation mechanisms to bundle individual projects where climate resilience needs are fulfilled through e.g. small scale NBS projects can be an effective solution.

To learn more about green bonds for climate resilience click here.

— Anna Scolobig, University of Geneva, PHUSICOS project

What are the best strategies to address conflicting voices or choices during co-creation and co-design?

Answer: This is a good question and still a big challenge which once again underlines the value of co-creation and involvement of participatory process in all stages of an NbS project. I provide below bullet points defining the particular types of the conflicts and the related potential enablers/recommendations to overcome them:

All the recommendations highlighted above confirm the need for a higher degree of participation which can be solved through the use of co-creation approach which by engaging different stakeholders and thus making them as insiders of the NbS project, since they are involved actively in co-planning and assessment, co-design, co-implementation, maintenance and/or co-evaluation. There are many useful co-creation tools and methods, e.g. organised in informal formats and circumstances where people feel better and casual, e.g. transect walks, creative workshops, etc. We are preparing now a Manual for Practitioners which will be available soon online at RECONECT. The aim of this Manual is to provide a practical guide and a hands-on toolbox for implementing and managing participatory process in all stages of NBS process, addressing the challenges of existing policy-makers’ discordance and conflicts between citizens, public authorities, business/ private organisations and other stakeholders actively involved in creating new and more effective answers to the complex societal and environmental challenges of today’s society.

— Diana Dushkova, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, RECONECT project

What are Open-Air labs? And what have we learned about monitoring mid to large-scale projects?

Answer: The Open-Air Laboratory (OAL) is a novel concept outlined and implemented by the OPERANDUM project. The overarching goal of OPERANDUM is to deliver tools and methodologies for the validation of NbS to reduce hydro-meteorological risks in present and future climate. Accordingly, the OAL concept generalises the Living Lab approach to the co-creation and demonstration of NbS. It is the framework where scientists from different disciplines work together with enterprises, regional agencies and all stakeholders in a holistic approach towards climate change adaptation. From a climate scientist perspective, the OAL interprets and implements an ongoing paradigm shift in climate science that, when dealing with adaptation actions, is now transitioning into a bottom-up approach that starts from local climate-related risks.

Lessons learned from the trenches of the OALs include: an extended framework for monitoring of physical and socio-economic indicators, integration of monitoring, laboratory experiments and multi-scale impact modelling for the assessment of the NbS, knowledge base for technology innovations and acceptance. For instance, results from an OAL in Scotland show that NbS can work towards preventing shallow landslides and soil erosion, but the efficacy depends on the vegetation species and maintenance practices, and effective benefits depend on the time needed for the implementation, as well as the time needed by the NbS to reach maturity. Similarly, an integrated monitoring-modelling approach in an OAL in Finland has proven crucial for the design of NbS to improve water quality in a lake catchment, overcoming limitations posed by conventional monitoring-only approaches. Finally, combining laboratory experiments and multi-scale modelling, an OAL in Italy has demonstrated the efficacy of deep-rooted vegetation in preventing riverbank collapse via multiple mechanisms. The final product of the OALs is a methodology for the evidence-based assessment of the efficacy of the NBS and the knowledge base for their replication and upscaling.

— Silvana Di Sabatino & Paolo Ruggieri, University of Bologna, OPERANDUM project

When will we see large-scale projects starting to be implemented in developing countries?

Answer: Several such projects have already started within the RECONECT project (see our list of Collaborators). For instance, such countries as Bulgaria (NbS in Kamchia River Basin), Brazil (Rio do Couves), Malaysia (Klang River Basin), China (Yangtze River Basin), Myanmar (Chindwin River Basin), Peru (Piura River Basin) perform prefeasibility studies and knowledge sharing activities with a network of European and international collaborators (5 EU and 13 International). They are inspired and working in close collaboration with several European large-scale Nature-based Solutions projects such as Elbe Estuary (Germany), Tordera River Basin (Spain), Seden Strand Odenses (Denmark), Portofino Natural Park (Italy) to be created and evaluated during the RECONECT project lifetime.

— Diana Dushkova, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, RECONECT project

In summary, here are three key takeaways from the implementation of NbS projects:

Takeaway #1: empowering stakeholders from multiple levels through co-design and co-creation enables projects’ implementation, sustainability and scalability.

Takeaway #2: raising funds for NBS solutions requires public, private and blended finance models. Additionally, macro-finance solutions, like green bonds, widen the funding opportunities particularly within the private sector.

Takeaway #3: validated science-based assessment tools are now available; thus, it is possible to evaluate NbS performance in reducing hydro-meteorological risks under present and future climate.

To watch the entire session, click here

The RECONECT project demonstrates the effectiveness of Nature-Based Solutions for hydro-meteorological risk reduction in rural and natural areas www.reconect.eu